We are still in the Pagan playground so let’s play!

In the 70s, 80s and early 90s many people believed that Wicca, Druidry and Asatru were ancient belief systems rediscovered intact and that we as modern Pagans were the heirs to these practices. Then this mist of belief began to fade as scholars such as Ronald Hutton began to dig deeper into the origin myths that had been built upon in preceding years, and slowly it became apparent that much of what we held as ancient practice had in fact been created by Gerald Gardner, Doreen Valiente, Aleister Crowley, the Golden Dawn, Iolo Morganwg and Ross Nichols to name just a few. And thus our new journey began.

To achieve validation some turned to archaeology and ancient history texts to recreate a more authentically ancient version of their path. Others delved deeper into the available ancient stories, poetry and myths. Others took comfort that at least the provable roots of their tradition (Druidry) was 300 years ago, a good deal older than Wicca which obviously had its roots only in the 1950s. Some people began to literally fall out with each other over these details. Reconstructionism became more valid to some because there was provable evidence of ancient practices. Some dropped their previous practices because they discovered they didn’t have ancient roots and were deemed to be somehow fake. Others held on to these practices because to them they worked, and their ancient pedigree was not the primary importance.

Then we had the flame wars, the ‘there are no Druids anymore’ type blow outs. Still I see some people only able to validate their own paths by putting down the validity of others. I think this was what led me to write this blog post a month or so ago. I heard a discussion where the purity of race became more important than the simple spiritual message a speaker was trying to offer. And this thread has really stayed with me. I’ve been mulling it over ever since. Just the other day I read someone bemoan modern Paganism’s lack of achievement – and it really got me thinking.

This is my conclusion.

Modern Paganism is really just around 60 years old. I know that we can say modern Druidry can trace its roots back to the 1700s, but in truth what we as modern Druids are doing now has only really been around since the 70s or early 60s at the most. Before then it was a more masonic-style club with no real Pagan direction. I suppose you could push our roots back a little more to the Golden Dawn, but realistically that’s about it without a lot of tenuous links, or wishful thinking. So…

Paganism is very young.

It is. To some that’s a problem when it comes to validation. But it’s true. No amount of reconstruction will make what we do now any more ancient than any other modern Pagan path. We’ve lost the thread, but that’s ok because what we are doing now is different, it is ours, for our time and place. What makes it valid is us and our connection with it, not its age.

So our worldwide Pagan community is very much a child, finding its feet, learning how to walk, learning how to talk and communicate. We’ve got to go through this, and then we have to go through adolescence, and only then into adulthood. How long do we think it took Catholicism to come of age? Was it a born, a ready-made religion straight from birth? When Catholicism was 60 years old what was it like? What was Buddhism like 60 years on from the Buddha? Or Hinduism? What was Christianity like in 60AD? What I find deeply exciting is that we are here, right from the start! We are the ancients to future generations. What we do and how we are with each other now will affect the way others practice in hundreds of years time. That is a deep responsibility, one I take extremely seriously. But it should be no surprise that modern Paganism sometimes acts like a child, because it is still a child.

I’ve seen some people leave Paganism because of the actions of the community. They haven’t found the groundedness they needed, or they didn’t find the direction they needed, or the actions/words of some within the community to them betrayed the youthfulness of the path and they lost their connection. Paganism isn’t right for everyone. That’s ok. It’s all a part of us learning how to walk, how to be with each other holding such personal beliefs, yet also remain in community. When I look at it like this I see that we are all really the parents of this child ‘Pagan’.

One thing is for sure. Paganism will not reach adulthood in this lifetime. We are laying the foundation for others to take the flame into the future. So let’s be nurturing parents, not angry and criticising ones. Me, I want to nurture this child. I want to enjoy watching it play, seeing it grow, to be there, and to be a person that this child can look back at in hundreds of years and happily say, “There’s one of my Dads”.

15 responses to “We are still in the Pagan playground so let’s play!”

  1. YES! Celebrate the now, that ever changing never ending constant now. Honour the roots, the stories and the imagination of giants, but be in the moment. Great post, Dave.

  2. Well that puts it all in a hazel nutshell. All well put, well done. In Ireland, where I work with many visitors, a common question is “when and how did Ireland convert from Paganism to Christianity” – when I respond “there was never any conversion as people here learned about the psalms and scriptures long before there was a Christian religion, and Paganism is much more modern than Christianity” – the upset, confusion and “he does not know what is talking about” is quite rife. I quickly move onto “this is what we have now” and tell stories that include the ancient named heroes, goddesses and nature spirits 🙂 .

  3. Fine article and yes I have grappled over this having started my Druid path 25 years ago. Took time for myself to get to the realization that what matters most is ones relationship with oneself and the world around us.

  4. Well stated, and quite relevant to my own journey at this moment. The aspect of this that I see, that I find unsettling, is not so much dissension, but seeing the growing political and hierarchical growth of certain traditions, which makes me shudder in reminiscence of the patriarchal/monarchical Christian tradition in which I was raised.

    It is a conundrum to me… While foundation and organization are important, can the community balance that without falling victim to those who are seduced by power and status within the many traditions… yes, we are Pagan, hopefully grounded, yet free spirited and accepting of all. But at what point do “rules” and expected conduct become just more of the few deciding what the many should believe and accept without voice?

    I am a Witch of the Old Ways, and I seek to learn so much more than I know. Yet I left a Wiccan group because of this struggle within myself. I am not a Wiccan, as who I am is not someone created by Gerald Gardiner. Nor does it sit well with me to accept unjust or hypocritical behavior of others merely for the reason that they are elders.

    In my own quest for learning, I have found that even the simplest of the crafts of the wise were invented quite recently, but accepted by many as rote, rather than taking a basic belief or concept and crafting it as ones spirit seems fit to create. This applies even down to ritual use of color.

    I have witnessed bickering, snipes, shunning, and animosity among group members which seems to be rooted in the fact that in this community, some are blessed with a higher connection to spiritual gifts than others, but are newer to the Craft, let’s say, than others… As such, people can find themselves being taught by others whose knowledge is not historically accurate and who practice more in name than in mind, body, spirit, from deep within the soul.

    This is troubling, as there are many of us out there, and every ay, I see, and receive inaccurate information from those who are themselves not schooled well enough to be giving information that is tote as ancient knowledge, but that only some will share that much that they present is their own interpretation based upon intuition.

    In the end, I do wonder how we will be able to come together to blend what is a combination of ancient wisdom, universal consciousness, and the inner knowledge of those with a deep connection to nature and the unseen. We should be able to, leave a richly, and wisely, woven tapestry as the foundation of Paganism for generations to come, rather than a splintering of traditions who create and call into practice so-called ancient wisdom, when it is merely the brain child of type-a Pagans who deem their spiritual practices as the be all and end all.

    In other words, there is a lot of hooey out there, and is it possible for people of our nature to really create true tradition based upon what we know of our ancestry, or will we create just another organized religion, to be practiced blindly, jsut because someone says it is so?

    My apologies for the length of this response ~ like I said, this this a huge question that has been dwelling in my mind much these days, and goes deeper than even this.

    • Well said Lisa,
      Unfortunately it is a human trait for the ego to get in the way. My spritual path is better than your spirtual path or my teachings are older than yours e.g
      To these people who criticise the history of a particular pagan belief system whether be antient or modern are totally missing the point. Most have turned their back on the patriarchal dogma of the three main religions for this very reason. A Pagan is a Pagan no matter what colour, shape or size their God/ess may be or how old their traditions go back and more importantly we all have the same goal, to honour and protect our home, EARTH and all life that swims, flies and walks on her.
      We are one tribe, we are human. WE ARE PAGAN!

      • Dave,
        I loved your blog, you are totally right. We are the founding fathers (for wan’t of a better word) of this wonderful new way of spiritual thinking and you are also right to say we are just mere children blundering around to toddler stage. I just hope ego’s don’t get in the way in the future, this is one human flaw that we really have to watch out for.

  5. Some thoughts…
    Well said Damh, this is really good for thought and when reading this your mind starts to turn wheels in your mind and wheels are turning in mine.
    So what do I think just now. Well I bet the stoneage man when in his cave beating his animal skin with rocks, wouldn’t in one moment think, one day he would be striping them with knifes and axes of bronze and metal….and As the centuries go by, they change to all the things we know of today, from past to present. New tools, new beliefs. New tribes.
    Its evolution in process from the ancient past to the now and then. Many changes, but still human beings with new thoughts and new tools. Like changing your suits and clothes through out the ages from the wolf skin to your 2 piece suits and coloured shirts and skirts etc…Like Our beliefs, they change and evolve throughout the centuries and we may never be like the old ones of the past, the Pagan and Druids of old, but we are our own person, our own spirit and our own beliefs where many faiths and paths are amongst us.
    If we believe in Paganism then why not….we Are the new Pagan, the new Druid of today, evolved throughout time, changing tools, changing clothes and following our own beliefs o f the past and use the knowledge we know to keep alive the ancient ways, but in the now and then with all the newness of evolution. So yes we may be the new seeds of the future tribes and faiths. As Damh says ‘Paganism is still a child’ and I believe it is still growing up and we are like newly teenagers and enjoying the journey. We have to gather all these wonderful gifts of knowledge and share and spread the New Pagan ways, New Druid magic of the now and lay footsteps for the future humanity, be it Pagan or Christine or what ever path you may follow. We are all ONE, One Tribe, One Race……Its Called Humanity. So lets crawl, Understand to run and Maintain our Beliefs in whatever journey you follow….
    Just a thought.

  6. Reading this again, the integration into community is such an important and even taken for granted one.

    Many of the myth stories of where I live, the Morrigu, Lugh, Grainne, and other characters of old ways I learned from the local catholic priest. The Catholic part is indeed there through ritual and procedures, but this is all second to community.

    I have the catholic priest and the Presbyterian priest ( a woman) visit my labyrinths, do their own journey, we share tea, scones, chat and that chat is the same that any “pagan” today would talk about. Subject are often off onto the importance of tree spirits, local sacred wells, what nature is up to right now, how we can attract more tourists in to enjoy these things … and how these things can help our local people in need.

    No matter what the faith title is, the oldest religion of all is always present …. nature and community the same as it always has been before even they had names from our language.

  7. Years ago, my favorite archaeology teacher gave me a real touchstone, and your post brought it back to me. She spoke of the excessive weight given to what she called origin myths. The farther back you can push a bit of knowledge, the truer it is seen to be. She thought that that obscured, rather than revealed the truth, and that lecture taught me to peel back the layers till I get to the kernel of the matter ever since.

    You made a lot of good points, and I hope this post is widely read. Your points on community and our place in time I found particularly relevant. If we continue to recreate the patterns of intolerance and division that we’ve been taught by the dominant religious views wer were raised around, we’ll end up basically where we started, with a different mythical sugar coating. And I know we can do better.

    The image of the birch kept coming to me as I read your post, and the comments. All the beautiful ideas of the modern Pagan movement are seeds falling on fertile ground. We draw from the rich soil under us the mythology and wisdom that is there, but we grow community that is solidly rooted in this time and place. We’re still in the beginning, we are tending the first trees growing in this new time. This is a powerful, wonderful time, and I feel very lucky to be part of the people shaping this next cycle. This responsibility, as you correctly named it, is every bit as authentic and valid as the roots of the yew. After all, when we reach the last tree of the ogham, it’s time to go back to the beginning and take up the birch again, bringing the learning to the next level.

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